You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
So how many of you were early for Morning Service on Sunday, very early? The reason I ask is that at 2 am on Saturday 29 October 2016 all the clocks in the UK went back one hour. We moved from British Summer Time back to Greenwich Mean Time so we all had one hour extra in bed!
Have you ever wished you could turn back time, just like that? But, of course, we cannot. Yet we have all said or done something and immediately wished we had not. If only we could retract that word or action; but we cannot. Once the word is out of our mouth it is gone and cannot be recalled. Once the action is taken or a decision made it cannot be undone; the harm is done.
So what to do? On this point Thomas Merton’s advice is: ‘There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.’
How true, ‘we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.’ How many times have we jumped in with a comment when a few moments reflection would have told us to keep quiet? ‘The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak’. That is the most important point surely. Before making a comment, think but before thinking pray.
Surely, insofar as any decision is concerned, the same rules must apply; ask yourself what God wants me to do. Before taking any action write a list of pros and cons if you wish but before going further pray. Is this what God wants me to say, or do? Am I doing this for my benefit or for God’s? Perhaps a good place to start, and indeed finish, is: ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.’ John 15:12 (NIV)
Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus could have run away, ducked for cover when the palace guards came calling; in fact He need not have made the journey to Jerusalem at all, but He did make the journey and He did not run and hide. In fact His prayer was: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ Luke 22:42(NIV)
In the same way, as we cannot turn back time, we cannot undo what we have said or done, we must ensure that, ‘not my will, but yours be done’
In the end we will be judged by how much we have followed the example of Jesus and so let us pray for God’s help and guidance in all we do or say.
It’s nearly the end of October! Where has the past year gone? It seems only a short while ago that the daffodils were bursting into bloom to welcome spring. Yet the exuberance of summer is now behind us. The leaves are changing colour to reds, yellows and gold before falling to the ground – a quite brilliant display that they put on every year. The nights are drawing in and it is quite a bit colder now; this time last month the temperature was at least 20° warmer than today. Whilst some of the plants are still flowering the pace is slowing, and soon they too will be taking their rest. All will then be quiet until spring brings forth new life. Speaking of new life it will soon be Christmas!
I read the other day: ‘You who dwell in the garden, with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice.’ Song of Songs 8:13 (NIV) This is appropriate since God has inspired me to write these reflections about the garden for nearly eighteen months now and many of you have been in friends in attendance all the way, for which I give thanks. Let us then raise a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the glory of God’s Creation and for all the gifts that God has given us. After all: ‘ The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds, it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right.’ Sirach 35:21-22
October then is a time for reflection, a time to look back over the year, a time to ask ourselves what we have achieved in the last twelve months. What have we done for God this year and what are we doing for Him now? Perhaps more importantly what have we not done for Him? God has walked with us all the way but have we walked with Him? Does that seem a strange question? It is not really. I am sure that there have been times when we thought we knew best; perhaps for a brief moment that we knew better than He did which way to go. But as I say God has been with us and is always ready and welcomes us back to the path with unbounded joy. The days are getting shorter, the nights darker and there is uncertainty ahead but Jesus said: ‘I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10). Let us rejoice in that whilst we consider the last of the three great questions; what can I do for God in the coming twelve months? Rest assured whatever it is God will give you the tools to accomplish it and He will not leave you alone.
This growing season is over, the harvest is gathered in; now let us look forward with confidence and with faith in God Our Father to the next year.
The other day I had to go to the opticians in the High Street for an annual eye test.
There are 143 references to eyes in the Bible according to a search of biblegateway.com. Perhaps the best known reference is “an eye for an eye”. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus turns this round by saying that rather than extract revenge one should love his neighbour.
Anyway at my age I suppose I was not too surprised to find that my eyesight had deteriorated so that new glasses were prescribed. I can now see more clearly; which leads neatly to St Paul’s letter to the young church at Corinth:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)
The message here, I believe, must be that as mere human beings we are not able, in this life, to grasp the enormity of God’s plan for us. Moreover, although we see God the Father when we see Jesus nevertheless we do not see Him fully; we are limited by our human nature. As St John says, Jesus is the Word of God; He is God speaking to us in terms we can understand. But yet we do not see God fully. Jesus shows us God’s love for us but because of our humanity we only see the faintest image of that love. Jesus himself tells us that He is the Way; in other words He is not the goal. That is an important point to keep in mind; it is God the Father who is the end and objective of our life on this earth and beyond.
So even with our annual check-ups, our new improved lens we are still not able to see God’s plan for mankind clearly. But what we are able to see is the beauty of God’s Creation all around us. Just look out of the window at the trees, the flowers, the birds, the sunrise and the sunset. Here is God in all His glory. And what about our neighbour whom Jesus calls us to love; do we not also see God in him or her?
Lord God we thank you for the gift of sight, that we may see the glory of your Creation in everything around us.
Whilst many birds have migrated to warmer climes for the winter my old friend the robin has stayed at home. He is made of sterner stuff! I saw him this morning as I was making a cup of tea. He was sitting on my neighbour’s roof, surveying his territory – I thought it was my garden but he sees things differently. To me it is a garden past its prime, in need of a good tidy up but to him it is a source of the food he needs to get him through the winter. We see things in a different way.
Indeed, we see our fellow man in different ways. For example; how do we see the young mother fiercely holding her child to her whilst desperately trying to climb from the overcrowded, sinking boat to the safety of a rescue vessel amongst her fellows all pushing and shoving trying to make sure they do not drown? Do we see her as a terrorist, a criminal, someone only interested in claiming benefits from our welfare system, someone disturbing our status quo? Or do we see her as a desperate mother trying to care for her child as best she can?
When Samuel was sent to Jesse to find a king among his sons he thought he had found the ideal candidate in Eliab:
‘But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ 1 Samuel 16:7 KJV
This I think is the crux of the matter, God has given us eyes to see but do we really see? Do we see as the Lord sees – not the outward appearance but the heart? Do we look with compassion on those worse off than ourselves or do we leave it to someone else to deal with the problem? Some countries are not prepared to take the chance and have erected fences to keep refugees from entering their countries, whilst some advocate walls should be built to keep everyone out. But is that not closing one’s eyes to the problem? We look, certainly but often do not see the sorrow, the suffering all around us since it is easier not to; we would rather look the other way. Yet sinners, the blind, the lame, and lepers were welcome within the holy community Jesus was forming and we likewise are called to show compassion to our neighbour.
I see an untidy garden whilst the robin sees a food store; we see refugees, the down-trodden, God sees human beings made in His own image. So must we.
Lord, we thank you for the gift of sight. We pray that we may use that gift wisely, to look upon the heart of our neighbour rather than his outward appearance; to look upon him with an eye of tender compassion.
The other day I spoke of the difficulty I had trying to convince an automated telephone system that I was who I said I was. These advanced communication systems are great, fast and efficient. For example, I can write an email click on “Send” and the recipient can read it almost as soon as I have sent it, anywhere in the world. The problem is that people don’t always do that. Friends have said to me “Oh, I don’t read emails, I get so many of them” or “Send me a text to let me know you have emailed me”! My grandson tells me that emails are old fashioned anyway since everyone uses social media sites to communicate nowadays. Sadly, I am old enough to remember a time when communication was done by letter or telephone if the household had one, though not everyone did in those days. To receive a letter, especially a handwritten one was somehow special – my mother in law used to spend hours writing letters to friends and relatives and took great pleasure in receiving a reply. Of course, everyone dreaded the plain brown envelopes containing bills or a tax demand. The telegram, the nearest we had to instant communication, was often feared as it would almost inevitably bring bad news. In fact, it was not uncommon for a family to send one of the children to fetch the doctor from his home if one was required urgently.
Nowadays we check our texts and tweets as well as Facebook every day (probably several times a day). Indeed, if you look at the youngsters in the street they seem to be constantly glued to their mobile devices – wired in, it seems. Some of us even check our emails and voicemails too.
Fortunately living in town the wi-fi connection is usually satisfactory here, but isn’t it good to know that we do not need to worry about getting an internet connection to God. We simply do not need one for He is here with us at all times! That is the meaning of His Name Emmanuel God with us. All we need to do is to speak to Him. He is there for us. He will listen and answer us at any time of the day or night and in any circumstance. Perhaps you remember the line in the old hymn “Take it to the Lord in prayer”. Yes you can and you must.
So let us do just that today. Find a quiet time, a quiet place and check in with God.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years